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Need to Know: Should the Redskins pass more on first down in 2016?

Need to Know: Should the Redskins pass more on first down in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 25, 64 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond.

Timeline

At Redskins Park: OTA practice open to media 11:30; players available after practice; Jay Gruden news conference approx. 1:30.

—The Redskins last played a game 136 days ago. It will be 110 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 64; Preseason opener @ Falcons 78; Final roster cut 101

Pass more on first down?

There was plenty of debate over the course of the season that the Redskins should “pound the rock” more in first down. But the numbers indicate that they may have run on first down more than they should have.

Kirk Cousins (the only player to attempt a first-down pass in 2015) dropped back to pass 207 times on first down. He completed 145 passes for 1770 yards and he was sacked nine times for 75 yards in losses. On average the Redskins gained 8.2 yards per pass on first down.

They ran the ball on first more often than they threw, 238 times (53.5% of first-downs snaps). Those runs gained 781 yards, or 3.3 per play. You don’t have to be a math wizard to figure out that they gained well over twice as many yards by passing on first down than they did by running.

In case you’re wondering about turnover factor, Cousins threw two interceptions on first down and there were no fumbles in first-down running plays. Perhaps a valid reason for running on first but you'd have a hard time convincing me that turning it over on less than on percent of the passes should be much of a deterrent considering the yardage differential on first down.

Those numbers show us all game situations including some when the other team might be in a prevent defense and giving the Redskins the 10-yard passes while playing to prevent the deeper balls. So let’s narrow it down a bit and try to find “normal” situations.

Let’s look at how effective the plays are when you the game is competitive. When the game was within 10 points either way in 2015, the Redskins ran considerably more on first down, 166 times (56.8%), than they passed, 126 times (43.2%). But they averaged 3.3 yards per rushing play and 9.3 per passing play. Why not flip flop the play selection and pass more like 60 percent of the time? Looking at the numbers, you can legitimately ask why they should run on first down at all.

Of course, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. A team has to have a certain degree of unpredictability so the defense can’t stack up to stop the play. But if I’m Jay Gruden I am spending some time figuring out the minimum number of times I can run the ball on first down and still have the opposing defense honor it.

In case you missed it 

 

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

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Kirk Cousins breaks down the terribleness of FedEx Field grass

For years, the Redskins struggle with their home field as the fall turns to winter. It's been happening so long it's become an expected passing of the seasons, like the transition from Halloween jack-o-lanterns to Christmas lights dotting people's front yards. 

Well, on Thanksgiving night, the turf at FedEx Field again showed how bad it can be. On a second half interception returned for a New York Giants touchdown, replay showed that Kirk Cousins' foot got stuck on the dirt, and it played a role in his sailing a ball to the sideline. The bad turf was not the only reason for the interception, but it was definitely a reason. 

Beyond the pick, the field was just ugly. Twitter blew up making fun of the Redskins home grass, and the national broadcast showed just how unsightly the long brown patch between the hash marks looked. 

On Friday, the normally diplomatic Cousins opened up about the grass.

"It probably doesn't look like a professional NFL field should," the quarterback said on 106.7 the Fan (full audio here). "If you think the field is rough now on Thanksgiving, we've got two more home games in mid-to-late December. That's probably going to be a bigger challenge."

Asked about the field's impact on the interception on Thursday night, Cousins ignored it. But plenty of other players have suggested the field is a known problem in the second half, and something they just must deal with. 

"I don't know why it is that way or what causes it," Cousins said. "I've kind of learned to accept it and understand it's part of the deal. Playing here on the field has never been that great in the second half of the season for whatever the reason."

[h/t @BenStandig for the Cousins quotes]

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When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

When Samaje Perine got going, so did the Redskins' offense

At halftime of the Redskins’ Thanksgiving night game against the Giants, Samaje Perine had three yards rushing and his team had three points. Washington had racked up all of 113 yards.

Coincidence? Not entirely. Although the Redskins are primarily a passing team they need to run the ball to pass effectively.

“We had to get the running game going,” said Jay Gruden after the game.

In the second half, Perine and the offense did get it going. Perine ran for 97 yards and Redskins put up 210 yards and 17 points. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t a coincidence.

The Redskins didn’t make any halftime adjustments to get the ground game in gear.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Perine. “We knew they were going to come out fired up, they just came off a big win. We just had to stay the course and then things started going our way.”

MORE REDSKINS: MUST-SEE PHOTOS OF THE WIN

Perine was more steady than spectacular. His longest run was 16 yards. He came out of the locker room and ran for six and 10 yards on his first two carries. Later in the third quarter the Redskins were backed up at their own 10. Perine ran four straight plays for 39 yards and the Redskins were near midfield.

Although they didn’t score on that drive they did change field position. That was part of the Redskins’ strategy playing with an injury-depleted offense.

“If you had to punt in a game like this and play field position, it’s not the end of the world because our defense was playing so good,” said Gruden.

Not only did the running game flip the field, it flipped the time of possession. In the first half, the Giants had the ball for 17:40 compared to 12:20 for the Redskins.

“We had to get on the field and control some of the clock,” said tackle Morgan Moses. “We had to give our defense a rest. Samaje put his foot in the ground and got extra yards when needed and we were able to move the chains.”

Moses wasn’t the only one enjoying seeing Perine pile up some yards.

“As a defensive player, you want to see that,” said safety D.J. Swearinger. “We say, keep running it. Keep running him. Let him keep getting those carries, put a dent in the defense. It was a good sight to see.”

RELATED: FIVE KEY MOMENTS IN RESKINS VS GIANTS

Swearinger got to watch a lot of Perine. The Redskins piled up 22:17 in possession in the second half, while Swearinger and his defensive mates had to defend for just 7:43.

Last night was the second time in four days that Perine has rushed for 100 yards or more; he had 117 in New Orleans on Sunday. No Redskin has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games since Alfred Morris did it in November of 2013.

He will have a chance to extend that streak to three on Thursday against the Cowboys, who are ranked 17th in rushing defense. That would put him in some elite company in Redskins history, including Larry Brown (twice) and Stephen Davis.  A steak of three straight 100-yard games was last done by Morris in 2012.

It may be a little early to look forward, but the Redskins record is five straight 100-yard games, held by Clinton Portis (twice) and Ladell Betts.  

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.